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THE PRINCIPLE OF SIMILITUDE. [Nature, Vol. xcv. pp. 66—68, March, 1915.]
I HAVE often been impressed by the scanty attention paid even by original workers in physics to the great principle of similitude. It happens not infrequently that results in the form of " laws " are put forward as novelties on the basis of elaborate experiments, which might have been predicted a priori after a few minutes3 consideration. However useful verification may be, whether to solve doubts or to exercise students, this seems to be an inversion of the natural order. One reason for the neglect of the principle may be that, at any rate in its applications to particular cases, it does not much interest mathematicians. On the other hand, engineers, who might make much more use of it than they have done, employ a notation which tends to obscure it. I refer to the manner in which gravity is treated. When the question under consideration depends essentially upon gravity, the symbol of gravity (g) makes no appearance, but when gravity does not enter into the question at all, g obtrudes itself conspicuously.
I have thought that a few examples, chosen almost at random from various fields, may help to direct the attention of workers and teachers to the great importance of the principle. The statement made is brief and in some cases inadequate, but may perhaps suffice for the purpose. Some foreign considerations of a more or less obvious character have been invoked in aid. In using the method practically, two cautions should be borne in mind. First, there is no prospect of determining a numerical coefficient from the principle of similarity alone ; it must be found, if at all, by further calculation, or experimentally. Secondly, it is necessary as a preliminary step to specify clearly all the quantities on which the desired result may reasonably be supposed to depend, after which it may be possible to drop one or more if further consideration shows that in the circumstances they cannot enter. The following, then, are some conclusions, which may be arrived at by this method:
Geometrical similarity being presupposed here as always, how does the strength of a bridge depend upon the linear dimension and the force of gravity?~-= of this. At this rate we